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Petra, Jordan Is it an ancient Shiva Temple complex? (cont.)
By Bibhu Dev Misra (IIT, IIM)

While the architectural grandeur of Petra continues to captivate us, the mysterious religious beliefs of the Nabataeans have puzzled historians. Within the temple of Al Deir, the largest and most imposing rock-cut temple in Petra, is present an unworked, black, block of stone, like an obelisk, representing the most important deity of the Nabataeans - Dushara. The term Dushara means ‘Lord of the Shara’, which refers to the Shara mountains to the north of Petra. The symbolic animal of Dushara was a bull. All over Petra, Dushara was represented symbolically by stone blocks. At the entrance of Petra there are three massive standing blocks of stone, known as Djin blocks, which were sacred to the inhabitants. There are nearly 40 such Djin blocks present throughout Petra. In addition, at religious sites throughout the city, the Nabataeans carved a standing stone block called a baetyl, literally meaning ‘house of god’. A baetyl physically marked a deity's presence. It could be a square or rounded like a dome. Some baetyls’ were depicted with a lunar crescent on the top. The Nabataeans also appear to be snake worshippers. One of the most prominent structures in Petra is the snake monument, which shows a gigantic coiled-up snake on a block of stone.

Fig 2: A dome-shaped baetyl

Fig 3: A baetyl with a lunar crescent on top

Fig 4: Snake monument at Petra. [Souces: Nabataea.net]


This unusual array of symbolic elements associated with the chief god of the Nabataeans, Dushara, may have confounded historians, but to anyone familiar with the symbolism of the Vedic deity Shiva, the similarities between Dushara and Shiva will be palpable. Shiva is still worshipped all over India in the form of a black block of stone known as a Shiva Linga. A Shiva Linga, which is essentially a ‘mark’ or ‘symbol’ of Shiva, sometimes appears as an unworked block of stone, much like the idol of Dushara in the temple of Al Deir; but typically it is represented by a smooth, rounded stone which resembles some of the rounded ,dome-shaped, baetyls that we find in Petra. Shiva is also associated with the mountains; his residence is supposed to be in the Kailash Mountain in the Himalayas, to the north of India, where he spends most of his time engaged in rigorous asceticism. His symbolic animal is a bull, named Nandi, which is commonly depicted kneeling in front of the Shiva Linga. Pictorial depictions of Shiva always show a crescent-shaped moon in his matted locks, much like the lunar crescent that appears on top of certain baetyls in Petra; and on top of the Shiva Linga is present a coiled-up serpent, bearing a strong resemblance to the serpent monument of Petra. It is evident that Shiva and Dushara are symbolically identical, leaving little scope for doubt that Dushara must indeed be a representation of the Vedic deity Shiva.



Fig 5: Black stone Shiva Linga in the coils of a seven hooded serpent. Lepakshi, Andhra Pradesh, India, 16th century. [Souce: thehourssofar.blogspot.com]

Fig 6: The 123 feet high statue of Shiva in Bhatkal, India, with snakes coiled around his neck and the crescent shaped Moon on his matted locks. At the foot of the statue is Shiva’s vahana (carrier), Nandi the bull. [Source: manthoin1.blogspot.com]

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